Rep. Don Rone, R-New Madrid, has long been a critic of investor-owned utilities and an opponent of legislation to upgrade utility infrastructure says if the provision that allows the Public Service Commission to set an economic development rate for the state’s largest consumers is added that it would change his position on the bill.
“I would absolutely support 190 if the amendment for the smelter or steel mill were to be added, absolutely,” Rone said. “If they were to insert it, then I would be in favor because of the 500 to 600 jobs it would create down in the boot heel.”
The Noranda smelter was shut down after an electrical accident last year and Magnitude 7 won a bidding war against several other companies who were looking to permanently close the plant and sell its equipment for scrap.
Magnitude 7 has told local leaders they were interested in reopening the plant, and has hired some employees back in the last few months to work on the rod mill currently operating at the plant.
Utility legislation has been particularly contentious for nearly a decade, and, this session, the filibustering over SB190 has spilled over into other legislative fights.
The PSC had previously lowered the rate that Noranda paid, but the PSC said it would need new enabling legislation to lower it to the rate needed for Noranda to remain profitable.
Mark Sutherland, the vice president of Market Strategies at Missouri Partnership, commented that he was glad that the legislature was focused on economic development.
“It’s a highly competitive business atmosphere, and anything that makes us more attractive is good,” Sutherland said. “We want to make the choice of Missouri as easy a choice as possible. When a company makes a decision to go anywhere, it’s always a heavily weighed decision”.
This legislation is a drastically scaled back version from previous proposals and is only able to be enacted after PSC approval. Opponents – most notably Sens. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, and Gary Romine, R-Ste. Genevieve – have said that the legislation is unnecessary.
The boot heel has long since struggled economically compared to other portions of the state, seeing a dramatic loss since the smelter was closed. New Madrid City Administrator Richard McGill said whether it was SB 190 or not, that he supported anything that could bring the jobs back.
“Household income dropped almost $7,000 on the average after the loss of Noranda,” and McGill said there’s concern about the longterm effects of that as well. “We’re competing with other states. I can look out the door and see into another state. We’re fully behind the efforts to try and help the new owners of the smelter.”
If the state could get the smelter back, McGill said it would be “monumental.”